TAMARA GRIGSBY, MSW
by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW
There are some people who are taken from this life way too quickly but still manage to have a major impact on their community, state and the people who they encountered. Tamara Grigsby, who died at age 41 in Madison on March 14, was one of those individuals.
Tamara Grigsby epitomized the social work passion and commitment to social justice. As a State Representative representing the inner city of Milwaukee for eight years and later as Dane County’s Community Outreach Coordinator and Director of Equity and Inclusion, she fought passionately for the needs of children, communities of color and low income and other marginalized populations.
Tamara received her Masters’ in Social Work from UW Madison and as a state legislator proudly identified herself as a social worker. During social work month she gave a shout out on the Assembly floor to NASW WI and the social work profession. During the 2009-2011 legislative session when the Democrats were in control of the State Assembly and Senate, Tamara helped get NASW WI’s Vendorship bill included the Wisconsin State Budget and led the efforts to successfully pass a bill requiring that sex education in the public schools include “scientifically based information and instruction”. As a member of the powerful Joint Finance Committee she advocated for the needs of inner city residents in the state budget. She worked on numerous other bills supporting the needs of children and low income communities.
After leaving the State Legislature Tamara worked for Milwaukee Public Schools and then was recruited by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi to move back to Madison and help him work on issues of racial disparities in Dane County. In this position Tamara is credited with developing the County’s 2015 “Access to Opportunity” policy initiative, which could serve as a model for other counties in Wisconsin wishing to work on reducing racial disparities.
On a personal level I worked with Tamara both while she served in the Wisconsin Legislature and Dane County. She inspired and challenged me to increase the NASW WI and social work presence at the State Capitol. She also asked for NASW WI’s help with obtaining support from the Dane County Board of Supervisor for her “Access to Opportunity” policy initiative, which I was happy to provide. When Tamara first ran for State Assembly NASW WI’ Political Action Committee was the first organization to endorse and provide money for her campaign. Our PAC money enabled her to make her first lawn signs and produce other campaign materials.
Tamara saw her job in the legislature not only to fight hard on behalf of children, communities of color and marginalized populations but also to help educate her Republican colleagues about the needs of inner city residents. I remember her telling me a story of how she convinced a Republican female legislator from Menomonee Falls to dress down, put on a baseball cap and spend a day in the waiting room at a welfare department in Milwaukee.
Tamara also strongly encouraged social workers to consider running for elected office. She often told the story of how she was persuaded to run for the State Legislature by State Senator Lena Taylor and what her experience was like announcing her candidacy. Senator Taylor had to call Tamara every day for a week before Tamara finally agreed to run. At that time Tamara was totally uncomfortable public speaking and being in the public eye. When she announced her candidacy, she made a quick presentation and then ran out of the room and became sick! Tamara clearly overcame this reticence for public speaking and being a public advocate.
In memory of the life and accomplishments of Tamara Grigsby let us renew our personal commitment to promote social justice in our local community, state and nation.